Future could be bright for marijuana dispensaries

Experts are mulling over the future of medical marijuana dispensaries after a Liberal-party victory.

Experts say incoming Liberal government likely to change rules around medical marijuana

Medical marijuana clone plants are shown at a medical marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Calif., Feb.1, 2013. (Jeff Chiu/AP/Canadian Press)

Experts are mulling over the future of medical marijuana dispensaries.

Dispensaries, designed to help people gain access to medical marijuana more easily, have been controversial in many parts of the country.

On Thursday, Saskatoon Police arrested four people connected to the Saskatchewan Compassion Club, charging them with drug trafficking.

Since the incoming Liberal government has promised to legalize and regulate the recreational use of marijuana, the question of how the new government will handle dispensaries has become top of mind.

"They have to be cognizant that Canadians need better access to this plant for medical purposes," said lawyer Kirk Tousaw. "[Prime minister-designate Justin Trudeau] voiced some personal support for dispensaries and seemed to indicate that they would be included in an overall regulatory scheme."

Tousaw is asking the new Liberal justice minister to stop prosecuting anyone involved in medical marijuana cases or associated with dispensaries.

"At the end of the day, if we're going to be legalizing this conduct, and it's conduct that the courts have repeatedly supported, in charter decisions, and it's conduct that Canadians support, then why would we be spending taxpayer dollars fighting very expensive pieces of charter-based legislation?" he asked.

Police reaction to marijuana dispensaries has been mixed. While some police forces have been aggressive shutting dispensaries down, other forces have turned a blind eye, creating a patchwork quilt of enforcement across the country.

"It's a real difficult issue, because different jurisdictions have different ways of handling these things," said Donald MacPherson, Director of the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition. "Vancouver police are very clear that using the criminal law to shut down these businesses is not an efficient or cost-effective way to go."

MacPherson said the current medical marijuana system is not working for everyone, with many people turning away from legal sources of pot from Health Canada.

"It's very difficult to buy online your medicine, especially when it's an organic product," he said. "You need to have a relationship with a product that you like. It's like buying your produce online. It would be very difficult to do that."

The new federal government will be sworn in next week.


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